Bloomberg: A gas leak from the “Nord Stream” into the Baltic Sea could become a new climate catastrophe

Anhelina Sheremet

A 700-meter pool of gushing water in the Baltic Sea, formed by a rupture of the “Nord Stream” gas pipeline, points to a climate catastrophe.

This is reported by Bloomberg.

According to German estimates, approximately 300 000 tons of methane — one of the most powerful greenhouse gases — entered the atmosphere as a result of the leak. This amount of gas would have about the same impact on the climate over a 20-year period as the annual emissions of about 5.48 million cars in the United States. Methane has 84 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide during its first 20 years in the atmosphere, but decays rapidly thereafter.

At an event in the European Parliament on the evening of September 27, lawmakers, scientists and environmentalists discussed how to measure the extent of the leak, but were united in one thing: it is most likely an environmental disaster.

Two of the three leaks occurred in Denmarkʼs exclusive economic zone, near the island of Bornholm in the Baltic Sea. More than half of the gas from the ruptured pipelines has already entered the Baltic Sea. Germany has said that the leakage from the “Nord Stream” is equivalent to approximately 1% of the countryʼs total annual emissions. Although the methane leak is harmful to the climate, it does not pose a serious threat to the marine environment, the German Environment Ministry noted.

There are a number of key uncertainties: How much gas was in the pipelines at the time? At what temperature and pressure it was held? How big the breaks in the pipes are?

Even when the gas comes out, some of it probably dissipates in the water. However, this depends on the density of microbial life and the depth. To get accurate data, the aircraft will have to take measurements from the air. Estimating the exact amount of methane released into the atmosphere is extremely difficult — getting accurate data over water is much more difficult, given that light reflects off the surface.

Scientists said that while the leaks from the “Nord Stream” have been a climate disaster, they still pale in comparison to daily emissions from gas infrastructure around the world.

"The most direct impact of these gas leaks on the climate is an additional portion of the powerful greenhouse gas methane. However, this is a tiny bubble in the ocean against the huge amount of so-called volatile methane emitted every day worldwide from coal and oil production," chief executive of the Edinburgh Institute for Climate Change Dave Ray emphasized.

The largest known release of methane in the USA occurred in 2015 at a gas storage facility in the Aliso Canyon (Los Angeles), where more than 97 000 tons of methane were released in a few months. For comparison: the gas leak from the Nord Stream could last for several hours.